Palisades Elementary School Principal Joan Ingle to Retire

By Sue Pascoe

Once again, I was called to the principal’s office at Palisades Elementary School on May 9. But this time (years later) it was not about the behavior of one of my three children, but rather the bittersweet news that Principal Joan Ingle, who has been at the school 10 years, and in the education field for 40, is retiring in June.

“I’m 67 and I feel it’s time,” said Ingle, who lives in Pacific Palisades.“My goal when I came to the school was to make it a kinder community.”

And by all accounts, Ingle has done exactly that with the emphasis on a healthy, positive and social environment that has made this top-performing school a safe and secure place for kids.

“The children really feel their teachers know them,” said Ingle, who started out as a therapist, before entering education.

Joan Ingle Photo: Lesly Hall Photography
Joan Ingle
Photo: Lesly Hall Photography

When prospective parents come to the school, Ingle tells them “Look for engagement.” Meaning, watch how the kids interact with each other, with the teachers, aides and parents working in the classroom. All students are active and involved in learning.

New parents to the school are paired with “old” parents, which “makes people feel part of a community faster,” Ingle said. “I tell parents their child will have 24 best friends by the end of the first day.”

TRIBES, the program that was started about the time Ingle came to the school, involves teaching students about four agreements: attentive listening, no put downs, mutual respect and the right to pass—not participate if you chose not to.

“The kids learn social skills from Tribes,” Ingle said. “It has really helped ground the school.”

She has faced the homework debate, which still goes on with some parents, about how much work should be given elementary students.

“Twenty minutes of reading a night,” Ingle notes, is good for most younger students and urges those who feel that their child will be left behind if not loaded down with homework every evening to look at “what is essential and what is research-based.” Those parents may be surprised to find that too much homework is counterproductive.

Ingle also encourages parents “to stay in touch with your children.” When parents electronically record everything (with iPhones and cameras), they are constantly putting a screen between themselves and their children. At Palisades Elementary, important events are taped and offered to parents, so they can relax and watch their children in real time.

“Put the cameras down,” Ingle said. “It’s ‘snap’ and your children are grown. Stay present. Be there for your sons and daughters.”

Ingle started teaching in private schools, but then switched to public schools because “this system is unique. We open our doors to everyone. We say ‘yes.’”

Since becoming an educator, Ingle said, the biggest change has been “the amount of pressure to achieve put on children at a very young age.” Another change has been the amount of testing and the emphasis on it. She noted there is a difference between learning and teaching to a test. Ingle tries to take the stress off the children who are faced with standardized testing. “I tell them, ‘Just show us what you know.’”

She also wonders if we ask kids the wrong question by saying, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Maybe instead we should ask, “How can you use your passion to help the world?”

As a principal, Ingle moves in and out of classrooms: teachers are also her responsibility. “We have great teachers,” she said, explaining that she provides constructive feedback. “It’s been interesting to watch the kids grow—and the teachers.”

She lets her teachers know “I work with you, I walk with you” and notes that that teachers who have worked other places value the school’s charter status and like the ability to collaborate and work with one another. “The charter is about innovation,” said Ingle, who oversees 520 students and 30 faculty.

One of her favorite grades to teach was first because “I loved watching kids learn to read. When they finally understood, it was like a light went on in their face.”

What’s one piece of advice she’d give to her replacement? “To become part of the fabric. Don’t change things too fast, but work with the community. Really weave yourself into a relationship with staff and parents.”

She said she’ll be a phone call or an email away, but wants her successor to be able to do it her or his way. “The new person needs to make their own nest.”

Ingle has been asked to possibly stay with LAUSD and mentor new principals, but said: “I told them I need six months, before I do anything.”

She admits her husband, Jeff, an executive with IngleDodd Media, wasn’t ready for her to retire. “He derived joy from the kids coming up to us in Gelson’s.”

Ingle’s plans to visit her daughter Anna Novotny and husband Francois, who live in upstate New York with their three children, Leah Rose, 6, Benjamin 4, and Patrick, 3 months.

She will also visit St. Louis to see her son, Dr. Daniel Fox, and his wife Elizabeth, who is also a doctor.

Children, calmness, cooperation, collaboration and community have all been the focus of Ingle’s stay as principal—and Palisades Elementary has thrived on her leadership.

“You marry, have babies, work and then you retire,” Ingle said. “Who does that?” She admitted her parents had never retired— and reflected how fast the time goes. Then she added “It’s the right time for me.”

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